Newcomers: Book One


Translated from by

Published: May 17, 2016



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Book Description

The first volume of this three-part autobiographical series begins in 1938 with the expulsion of the Kovačič family from their home in Switzerland, eventually leading to their settlement in the father’s home country of Slovenia. Before leaving their home, the ten-year-old son of the family imagines his father’s country as one of beauty and fairytales, but as they make their way to the land of their exile, the family realizes that any efforts to make this place a home will be in vain. Confronted by misery, hunger, and hostility, the young boy refuses to learn Slovenian and falls silent, his surroundings becoming a social, cultural, and mental abyss.

Narrated by the boy with uncanny naiveté, the novel follows his family’s journey in a fragmented mosaic of memories. Some are innocent and tender, while others are miserable and ruthless, resulting in a profound and heart-wrenching description of a period torn apart by conflict, reflected in the author’s powerful and innovative command of language.


"Newcomers is an emblem of what memory — personal memory, political memory, a place’s memory — can create from erasure... Curiously hypnotic."

Los Angeles Review of Books

"A vigorous translation by Michael Biggins ... this work achieves the panoramic effects of H.G. Adler’s Shoah trilogy by way of Joycean stream of consciousness. Its arrival in English is most welcome."

Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

"A powerful chronicle of conflict and upheaval within both a family and a country, as told, and experienced, by a young, engaging, clearsighted boy...Kovačič skillfully depicts a tough, nomadic, hand-to-mouth existence in a city gripped by ethnic tension, rampant nationalism and the threat of war...This fine novel is not only accessible, but deeply memorable."

Malcom Forbes, Star Tribune

"A haunting account of the harmful effects of adult behavior on the impressionable minds of children...The plot may restrict the setting to a Slovenia decades past, but to Alojz and the reader, it is a dangerous, yet strangely vital world, imposing its bleak and unjust order on all witnesses."

Tyler Langendorfer, The Quarterly Conversation

"Epic and panoramic...Newcomers turns stereotypes on their heads, as novels of the century should do--stereotypes such as the dignity of rural poverty, the unifying sanctity of the Slovenian language, and the noble heroism of resistance."

Erica Johnson Debeljak, Context

"Kovačič impressively catches the mood of the early years of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The volumes are masterpieces. They are bitter, but grippingly intense in their description…Newcomers is a mnemonic sleight of hand of botanical exactitude, a weighty historical document whose significance will only grow."

Sign and Sight

"One of the major Slovenian prose writers of the last sixty years."

Words Without Borders

"...its style simultaneously lacks the effete and awkward self-consciousness that is so prevalent in the postmodern novels of the period in which it was written... Kovačič builds up a gritty naturalism, directing our attention to a single criterion of truth: the bearing of witness to the cataclysms of history, and the trauma of their aftermath."
Erik Noonan, MAKE Literary Magazine

"Kovačič’s book gives us a social, cultural, and political portrait of Slovenia in the 1930s until the Axis aggression against Yugoslavia (from 1941 to 1945). World War II will be the focus of the second book of the trilogy, which I hope will be translated soon.... [Kovačič's] outsider status allowed him to depict this controversial historical phase in a way that a Slovene-born peer could never do."

Marianna Deganutti, Slavic and East European Journal

"Lojze Kovačič is one of the most important writers of our time, one who confirms our world in both text and deed."
Miljenko Jergović, Jutarnji list
(Read a full translation on our blog.)

Read about Newcomers and its impact, and about Lojze Kovačič’s life, on signandsight.

An excerpt of Lojze Kovačič’s “A Boy and Death” was published on Words Without Borders.

In this translated essay in Primerjalna Književnost (Comparative Literature), published by the Slovenian Study for Comparative Literature, Alenka Koron writes about Lojze Kovačič’s work and influences, using the author’s personal library as a central focus. The essay starts on Page 107 of the PDF, which features many other fascinating, translated analyses of Slovenian literature.

Newcomers appears in Words Without Borders’ May 2016 The Watchlist.